As I made the early morning trek to the bus station on May 28th, I thought I had a stronghold on what was to come in 3 days. Per usual, I was wrong. The 2014 Roots Picnic on Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing (Philly) on May 31, 2014 was the 7th annual, my 4th consecutive and quite possibly the best one I’ve witnessed yet. hosted by the lovely miss Amanda Seales, the lineup boasted talented artists from all genres, ranging from Rap and R&B to Rock. These types of festivals are the best because everyone in attendance gets exposed to other artists and genres that they, traditionally, may pay no mind to. Personally, I’m a Hip Hop head, but I love ALL music and have a very open mind. With a new venue layout, 80 degree clear skies, Okayplayer GoPro drones flying overhead (huh?) and beautiful people everywhere, it almost seemed impossible that the day could get any better…
I got a “Media Pass” this year to cover the event, my first time ever getting VIP festival treatment. This pass gave me access to shoot the first 3 songs of any performer, from the front stage photo pit and, as great as it was being RIGHT there, let me tell you – I love the view and experience from being the crowd so much more. I had to shimmy my way back into the middle of thousands of people after leaving the pit to meet back up with my cousins and that was not enjoyable. After shooting the first few acts, I just said screw this and joined my people, the fans, to enjoy the rest of the event.
About a year ago, my cousin hipped me to a Philly artist by the name of Chill Moody (jot that name down), and we had the pleasure of meeting him last year while at The Roots Mural dedication on South and Broad. Fast forward to the present and I’m now crouched in the photo pit, chest against the stage, staring up at him slaying verses left and right. His set was extremely energetic and he utilized the entire stage while keeping his momentum rising throughout. Accompanying him was the supremely talented singer, Beano French whose voice beautifully tied the set together and truly made it complete, especially on One Shot. That man can carry a note further than most R&B singers out today, easily. With the GoPro strapped to his backpack and a constant screaming crowd, Chill’s hometown was showing massive amounts of support, possibly more-so than any other individual on the bill. Nearly every fan at his stage was rocking a “Nice Things” t-shirt and knew all of his lyrics, straight embarrassing me. I knew he had something, I was just unaware to how far that talent had spread before getting to my ears. As his set wound down, he began to take off and sign each of the Reebok Pump’s he was wearing and proceeded to toss them into the crowd. Of course, my cousin jumps 87 feet into the air and snatches one. Still excited, he asks me to hold it for him so he can go to the bathroom. While he’s in line, some 16 year old girl in a black tank top asks to buy it off me for 20 bucks because she “loves Chill Moody, took the train there and it was very scary.” Sorry chicka, we drove 7 hours from Boston and actually bought Chill’s gear at the merch stand. Nice Things.
The first time I heard of the Bad Rabbits was when I saw them open for Wu-Tang a few years ago. Since then, they’ve traveled the world and been featured on several late night shows, including Jimmy Kimmel. Being that we’re both from the same city, Boston, I made it a point to catch their performance at this year’s Roots Picnic. It was totally worth it. Seeing We Can Roll, Can’t Fool Me and Fall In Love among other hits, live was something for any music fanatic to smile over as their full band capitalized the stage and the lead singer, Duatronic’s vocals soared throughout the pier.
I graduated high school in 2004 and haven’t missed it this much until Just Blaze blessed the decks to spin every early Rocafella and Dipset track he’s worked on. Needless to say, my voice was almost gone after singing every word. If you’re with me, you better know all the words to the Dipset Anthem. After doing just that, he cut to the Young Gunz’ classic, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop as the walked out and the crowd went wild. You could tell the sections of age groupings just by peering over the crowd. Too many of the young fans had no idea why we older heads were buggin’ out so intensely. I was drenched in sweat and emotion. Chris and Neef continued to rock for a few more tracks with Just, including No Better Love which immediately took me to the rooftops of hype-ness. Just when you thought Blaze’s ser was over, Philly’s own Freeway struts out. What We Do, Flipside, Rock The Mic and half of Philadelphia Freeway was rocked from one end of the stage to the next.
Following a Just Blaze DJ set isn’t easy. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Good thing nobody beats the Biz because when Markie came out, the crowd went bananas. Cutting, scratching and all elements of ACTUAL DJ’ing were witnessed. It’s not often you get a true-school DJ set at any Hip Hop show these days, let alone one from the legendary Biz Markie. It really was a perfect segway, going from Just Blaze right into Biz Markie and hearing songs that spanned a few decades, especially for someone like myself who’s prefers early 90’s-2005’ish styles. Pretty sure the crowd had a simultaneous orgasm once that was over.
Arguably the most beautiful woman at the Roots Picnic, Jhene Aiko’s voice gracefully carried throughout the audience without flaw. As soon as I arrived at the event, picking out her fans was far from difficult, just looked for the groups of flawless women in white sundresses and flower crowns. All jokes aside, I’ve heard her live show isn’t much to write home about, but I would beg to differ based on what I witnessed at the 2014 Roots Picnic. From The Worst to Bed Piece, she did an amazing job keeping the fans entertained with their favorite singles as well as new material that I haven’t heard before. I can safely say she gained some new fans that day.
I knew A$AP Ferg fans were nuts, but I didn’t know how far they actually take it until I saw a 50-something year old guy with his two teenage sons raging hardcore in the center of the moshpit. “I want everyone right here to turn the fuck up and knock each other out,” goes Ferg. This is where I took a few steps back because I’m white, but FAR from “mosh pit white”. As the crowd chanted for it, Shabba Ranks finally dropped and the rage was heightened. That old pops and his kids though? RESPECT. He stayed in the pit the whole time.
I’ve been waiting 3 days to get home and write about Action Bronson’s set particularly. Twas easily one of the best performance I’ve seen, in life. The man casually strolls up the steps and onto the stage in his traditional attire (blue tee/shorts), carrying six large shoeboxes and places them down on the DJ table. Boom. While performing nearly every track off Blue Chips 2, he randomly picks up a shoebox every now and then, chucks it into the crowd like “Take a fu**ing pair of Mutombo’s. Take another fu**ing pair of Mutombo’s…” The boxes fly into the crowd and immediately disintegrate when each hits ‘em as everyone fights for one. Six boxes later, Bronsilino gets bored, so he jumps into the crowd, gently places his head on a girl’s lap and keeps rapping. At this point, I’m both crying laughing and bobbing my head so fiercely I was afraid it might fall off. But he’s not done yet. Come on, son. Have you ever SEEN a Bronson show? He makes his way back through the crowd, toward the scaffolding in the middle, CLIMBS IT AND BELLYFLOPS OFF ONTO A FOOD TRUCK! Mind you, he did all of this while spitting and not skipping a verse. His stomach slams onto the truck and with a light, seal-like belly slide, he maneuvers himself to standing position. Still rapping. Just picture it, take a minute. With the sun casting his silhouette, Action Bronson set closed out with him standing atop a food truck in the middle of thousands, flexing with his hands in the air like he just won the NBA championship.
As Bronson’s set wound down and the beer lines got longer, stray fans made their way back to the main stage for an epic Janelle Monae show, complete with Jackson 5 covers and all. The Electric Lady “walked the tightrope” and two-stepped like a pro all over that stage while her million-piece band backed her up. I swear she had an instrument for any sound and is also a robot. Her moves and voice are even crazier in person.
How could such an amazing festival excel any further? The Roots, kehd. This is the part I look forward to most every year (obviously), Black Thought strolling onto the stage with crowd’s roar getting louder and louder as he nears. The band performed a bunch of new material from their new project …and then you shoot your cousin and led into the classic’s Proceed, Get Busy and Clones. Just as they were getting to the climax, Snoop Dogg joined in and the smoke-filled Festival Pier exploded. Backed by The Roots, Snoop led into I Wanna Rock, Next Episode, Beautiful, Gin & Juice, Murder Was The Case and a ton of Doggystyle singles that reminded everyone why Snoop IS Snoop. As weed bags and rolled blunts flew from the crowd onto the stage, Snoop snatched up each one with a smile.
Out of nowhere, the Just A Friend instrumental started to play and back out came Biz Markie to perform it, soon accompanied by beatbox God’s Rahzel and Doug E. Fresh. This led to one of the greatest Hip Hop moments ever – a tri-fecta of Rap’s greatest beatboxers all on stage at the same time, joining forces and combining talents. Capping off the night was Doug E. assisting Snoop and The Roots with a beatbox of Lodi Dodi. Re-read that last sentence for me, would ya? Yes, that happened.
The entire day was a complete success and far exceeded my already-high expectations from previous years. It was filled with amplified energy and a unified love of all music genres, exactly what a festival should set out to do. Much respect to The Roots, Okayplayer and the entire festival staff for a well-constructed show. I guarantee you will see me in attendance again next year. You should join me there.
It’s impossible for words on paper to do this year’s festival justice. For a deeper look and full sets of photos and videos, checkout Roots Picnic FB page, Okayplayer‘s website or mattwhitlockPM and a1000and1words‘ Instagram. *Cover image used for this article taken by Jesse Fatz (for Okayplayer), all other images taken by Matt Whitlock (for The Source).
Matt Whitlock – @mattwhitlockPM